Under false pretenses and under false pretences

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Under false pretenses and under false pretences are two versions of an idiom that has been popular for about 100 years. We will examine the meaning of the common sayings under false pretenses and under false pretences, where they came from, and some examples of their idiomatic usage in sentences.

Under false pretenses is an idiom that describes misrepresenting circumstances, leaving a false impression, intentionally misleading someone. For instance, someone who is hired because he has earned an academic degree but has not, in fact, earned that degree, has accepted the position under false pretenses. The expression under false pretenses is most probably taken from the law; in the law, contracts or other agreements cannot be entered into under false pretenses, meaning one may not misrepresent the facts. The term has been used in everyday language since the mid-1800s. Under false pretenses is the American English spelling of the idiom.

Under false pretences is the British English spelling of the idiom. The word pretence or pretense means an unsupported assertion and has been in use since the 1400s.


The DOC K-9 tracking dogs were able to track to a home in Nauvoo where the suspect had gone into someone’s home under false pretenses while trying to evade capture. (Daily Mountain Eagle)

The false conspiracy sought to portray Obama’s election wins as fraudulent and secured under false pretenses. (Business Insider)

A drinks company that used false bank statements to obtain £300,000 from lenders under false pretences has been wound up in court. (Accountancy Daily)

Many clubs feel they effectively started playing under false pretences and have now been left high and dry. (The Guardian)